GOODBYE OPEN SKIES

(In response to question from Sputnik about Washington’s intention to leave the Open Skies Treaty)

The ABM Treaty and the CFE Treaty were already dead and the Trump Administration seems to be determined to kill off every remaining Cold War arms control Treaty. The Open Skies is just the latest. Russia will, of course, be blamed: it’s been “cheating“.

What’s driving this? I suspect it’s the post Cold War triumphalism that we have seen in every previous administration: We won, we’re Number One, suck it up Russia, you’re unimportant. The difference is that the Trump Administration makes no attempt to sugar-coat.

The irony of course is that the whole thing was President Eisenhower’s idea in the first place.

More of Washington’s short-term gain for long-term pain.

BLACK SWANS FLY IN

First published Strategic Culture Foundation

A black swan is slang for an unexpected event with large consequences. 2020 has brought us two so far: the COVID-19 pandemic and the collapse of oil prices. Each will have potent consequences for the Imperium Americanum. And there is a nest of black cygnets maturing.

COVID-19

A new infectious disease was noticed in China at the end of last year, identified as a coronavirus in January and a pandemic was declared in March. Since then economic and social life has come to a stop in the West as governments have been convinced to declare shutdowns. Restrictions became widespread in March and April and are still in effect; while some jurisdictions lessen them, others talk about more months. It is not the purpose of this essay to wonder whether these measures were justified or effective, only to state that they happened and that the world economy will have been enfeebled for two to three months or even longer. A big black swan indeed.

The fuller effects won’t be known for some time but one result is certainly that the West’s repudiation for efficiency has taken a huge – perhaps fatal – hit. Only six months earlier, a survey confidently stated that the West – led by the USA and Britain – would do best in dealing with a pandemic. Not so: “We Are Living in a Failed State: The coronavirus didn’t break America. It revealed what was already broken“; “The Death of American Competence“; “The coronavirus is the worst intelligence failure in US history“; “US’s global reputation hits rock-bottom over Trump’s coronavirus response“; ““The world has loved, hated and envied the US. Now, for the first time, we pity it”; “Coronavirus: EU could fail over outbreak, warns Italy’s Giuseppe Conte“; “The EU has bungled its response to coronavirus and it might never fully recover“. China can’t hold back its laughter “Chinese state media calls US a ‘primitive society,’ says ‘democracy is dying’ amid coronavirus“. Many of the American pieces, reflecting the abyssal divide in US politics, write as through it were all Trump’s fault. But it wasn’t Trump who didn’t replace PPE stocks used up eleven years ago. Whatever failures are his, the failure is not his alone. And neither are the West’s other deficiencies his doing. No one seems to have stocks of PPE – the easier and most obvious first step against the threat.

Washington deflects its failure by blaming China. But here too it’s lost its competence: here’s US Secretary of State Pompeo asserting at the same time that it’s manmade and that it isn’t:

POMPEO: Look, the best experts so far seem to think it was manmade. I have no reason to disbelieve that at this point.

RADDATZ: Your — your Office of the DNI says the consensus, the scientific consensus was not manmade or genetically modified.

POMPEO: That’s right. I — I — I agree with that. Yes. I’ve — I’ve seen their analysis. I’ve seen the summary that you saw that was released publicly. I have no reason to doubt that that is accurate at this point.

To say nothing of Fauci’s money in the Wuhan lab. China may not even be the point of origin: France has just discovered a case from December and there may be a US case from November. The breathlessly reported Five-Eyes assessment blaming China is fast collapsing: “mostly based on news reports and contained no material from intelligence gathering” says one of the Eyes. Washington may lash its minions into a coffle, but the rest of the world will scorn it as a pitiful attempt to distract. There will be increased rejection of the West’s assumption of competence and veracity. And, in the West itself, more will doubt the words of “experts” (especially those from Imperial College and its professors), “authorities and “trusted media sources”.

Most of the West is still shut down but China is opening. Observers know that China is becoming the world’s top economy – the World Bank had already given it that title in PPP terms in 2013 – and COVID-19 is sure to accelerate the process by giving it a head start out of the economic slowdown. With cheap energy too.

Soft power” is a useful term that describes the appeal of a given culture to others. For many years this was a potent arrow in the America quiver – I often think of the character played by Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday as the exemplar: open, honest, honourable and modern, but content to be an example and never to take advantage of her. Propaganda, to be sure, but effective propaganda. COVID-19 shows something else: in the simplest terms China has given assistance to many countries and the “US accused of ‘modern piracy’ after diversion of masks meant for Europe“. Piffle like “The United States and President Trump are leading the global effort to combat this pandemic” or America remains the world’s leading light of humanitarian goodnessjust make it more obvious. From the EU we get word salads: reaffirms/recognises/supports/recalls. And only three months ago the West is winning“. It has be-clowned itself.

Of the downstream effects of the COVID-19 black swan, we can see at least three: great and possibly fatal damage to the assumption of American and Western competence; a widening of the economic gap with China; a further change in the world soft power balance. The “blame China” diversion (not forgetting the rest of the current Enemy Package – Russia and Iran) is childish and will earn disgust. None of these changes is to the benefit of the Imperium Americanum.

Oil

In March Riyadh, on behalf of OPEC, proposed to Moscow that they reduce oil production in order to keep prices up. Moscow refused and Riyadh started pumping. COVID-19 shutdowns collapsed demand. A month later West Texas Intermediate futures went negative and the price of a barrel of oil passed below $20.

Generally it is estimated that the US shale oil industry (about 60% of US production) needs prices of about $60 to be profitable, Saudi Arabia, despite very low pumping costs, squanders so much that it needs about $80; Russia on the other hand is profitable at $45 and has half a trillion dollars in its FOREX kitty. So, if Riyadh started a price war it is not in a strong position; Moscow, on the other hand, some say, can survive $25 a barrel for ten years. As China’s industry comes back on line, it is starting to buy oil but most of it from Russia.

The end result of this price competition in a demand crash is unknown but it is unlikely that the US shale industry will do well out of it. And, because so much of Washington’s behaviour is based on the confidence that it is oil-independent, the US will not come out of this stronger.

So two black swans are likely to leave the Imperium Americanum weaker and less influential. And, it should be said, more contemned. But there is more.

And some black cygnets

Some may remember the excitement of TV commentators about cruise missiles in the Gulf War of 1990. And a weapon that could be launched a thousand kilometres away and hit a particular floor of the building aimed at was pretty amazing. That was the first large-scale public combat use of very long-range precision weapons and for many years cruise missiles were a signature feature of US attacks and practically a monopoly. Until 2015 when Russia struck targets in Syria from otherwise insignificant small craft in the Caspian Sea. So flabbergasted was Washington by this that its first reaction was to pooh-pooh the accuracy. But they were real; many Kalibres have been launched from different platforms including submerged submarines. So, there were now two demonstrated members of the club that could, in real conditions, precisely hit a target a long distance away. In its response to the killing of Soleimani, Iran showed that it too was a member of the club. While it seems some of its missiles did go astray, most hit exactly what they were aimed at. (The US military’s opponents also took note – again – of the fact that it does not have effective air defences). And the usual reaction from Washington: downplaying at first; later we heard of the hundred-plus brain injuries. Quite an achievement for a country that has been under sanctions for decades. And Iran just joined another small club: countries that can launch a satellite on their own (again the US contemptuous dismissal: “tumbling webcam in space“).

The Trump Administration is very hostile towards Iran but no more so than most US Administrations since the departure of the Shah – himself put back into power by a US-UK coup. Probably the hottest moment of this undeclared war was in 1988, but there have been many other crises and we just had another threat from Washington. Tehran knows its on Washington’s hit list and has been preparing for decades. Missiles will be one of its principal defences. Washington would do well to reflect on Iran’s – surprising to it – membership in these two elite clubs before it makes any more threats. Little cygnets become big swans.

Another black cygnet is the Iraq parliament’s demand that US forces leave the country. Washington is consolidating its troops but they will be besieged prisoners if the country rises against them. Which sooner or later it will when the new Prime Minister forms his government. Two consequences of the neocon-dominated “New American Century” in the Middle East have been the growth of Iran’s influence and the demonstration that the US military is not the omnipotent force it thought it was. When the effort to get it out starts, Washington will have three choices: hunker down and hope it goes away, enormously reinforce its troops for a completely new war, withdraw à la Vietnam. This cygnet is growing.

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A pandemic, oil price collapse, a target country showing it has more capability than assumed, threatened expulsion from Iraq. The surprises have exposed long-time weaknesses.

It’s always the unexpected things that test things to destruction.

 

 

RUSSIAN FEDERATION SITREP 14 MAY 2020

RUSSIA AND COVID. Today’s numbers: total cases: 250K; total deaths: 2305; tests per 1 million: 42K.Russia has done six million tests (second after USA); among countries with populations over 10M it’s fifth in tests per million and of those over 100M first; one could therefore expect it to find new cases – most of which have little effect. Mishustin is back at work, Putin’s spokesman is not. Putin, in a virtual meeting, announced the end ofthe “paid holiday period” and a gradual lifting of lock-down in a report on the state of play. There’s a report that Russia is undercounting: actually it’s taking a hard approach while some other countries take a soft approach (the from vs with question.) Which of course means that the numbers at worldometers.info are so varied in methodology as to be practically worthless…

OIL WARS. Prices creeping up to about $27. This piece argues that Riyadh has made a really big mistake and enumerates the ways it has. The US industry is in trouble.

RUSSIA INC. The IMF says, in PPP terms, Russia’s economy passed Germany to become number five.

BROWDER. His story takes another hit – as it always does when someone takes a real look at it. The German press council rejected his complaint against Der Spiegel saying his narrative lacked proof.

NORDSTREAM. After a long trip from Nakhodka in which it kept pretending to change its destination, the pipe-laying ship Akademik Cherskiy is now ready to complete Nord Stream 2. In an amazing coincidence, the Russians hack Merkel’s cell phone. Get in line Russia!. (Bernhard catches the NYT in another sloppy anti-Russia assertion.)

RUSSIAN YOUTH. It’s a widespread delusion, strengthened by the narrow circle Western reporters talk to in Russia, that “the government’s anti-Western agenda and reports of widespread corruption are turning young Russians against the leader.”Levada has done a survey of Russian youth and that’s pretty hard to find; in general they’re not far off their parents: a bit more liberal but also a bit more nationalist. Perhaps the most interesting result was that a solid majority thought Russia was not European. Robinson discusses. He wonders why so few show much support for “‘classical’ civil and political liberties”. My guess is that 20 years of observation of Western practice of these noble ideals has soured them.

PROVOCATIVE. US and British warships enter the Barents Sea, promoting regional security and stability, while building trust. I think a Russian-Chinese naval trip to the Beaufort Sea would get us all some stability and trust, don’t you?

WESTERN VALUES. Given that NATO likes to blather on about how it “promotes democratic values“, it’s amusing to see that Freedom House says that Hungary, Poland, Hungary, Montenegro and Turkey don’t make the cut as “consolidated democracies”.

AMERICA-HYSTERICA. Transcripts from House hearings have been published. Here they are. Nothing. It was all lies. Remember Crowdstrike and its “proof” the Russians hacked it? When they’re under oath, nothing. Remember all those people on TV saying there was strong evidence of collusion? Under oath, they said there wasn’t any. Schiff knew this and said it anyway. Justice Department drops case against Flynn – entrapment.More to come. But that doesn’t mean that the shills have given up: Russia will steal the next election; or will China? But does Beijing want Trump or out? (Wouldn’t it be fun if Moscow and Beijing disagreed on whom to put into the White House?)

DOES THE NYT PLAGIARISE RUSSIAN REPORTERS? You decide.

WHY IS THE US IN SYRIA? Washington longer bothers to prettify – the boot is straight to the face. ISIS? Forget ISIS says Jeffrey: “My job is to make it a quagmire for the Russians“. An amazing confession, in the same class as “We lied, we cheated, we stole“.

DOUMA. More leaked documents expose OPCW corruption – the whistle-blower was not, as we we told, some marginal guy, but one of the leaders of the inspection team. The official line requires us to believe that this smashed through a steel reinforced concrete ceiling and landed peacefully on a bed.

UKRAINE. A police official wants to know the names, addresses and phones of all the Jews in Kolomyya, a city in western Ukraine; “most of its Jews were murdered by February 1943 at the Szepariwice forest outside the city and the Bełżec death camp.” “Is Ukraine a Hub for International White Supremacist Fighters?” wonders a piece published by Harvard. Remember when it was Putin disinformation about nazis in Ukraine?

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer

MAYBE KARL MARX WAS RIGHT AFTER ALL

First published Strategic Culture Foundation

Before Marx socialism was a sort of voluntary wish thing, no doubt growing out of Protestant fantasies of life in early Christianity when everything was supposedly shared. There were a few attempts at building Christian socialist communities and most of them had unhappy endings – the Munster Anabaptists’ ending especially so. Secular socialist communities – Robert Owens’ attempts for example – also came to little, albeit more peacefully.

Marx’s claim was that he made socialism scientific by which he meant that he believed he had discovered the mechanism that had driven society through history: he concluded that socialism was the inevitable next stage of evolution. He and his collaborator Engels laid out the theory in The Communist Manifesto in 1848 and Marx spent the rest of his life working out the details. Class struggle – the means of production – the triumph of the bourgeoisie in modern times – labour theory of value – surplus value – the more the bourgeoisie succeeds, the more it creates its destruction: “What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.” It’s a complete theory of history and society. The driving force of the coming socialist period is the emmiseration of the proletariat – as the owners of the means of production squeeze more surplus value out of the workers, they become more powerful and richer while the condition of the workers becomes worse:

The modern labourer, on the contrary, instead of rising with the process of industry, sinks deeper and deeper below the conditions of existence of his own class. He becomes a pauper, and pauperism develops more rapidly than population and wealth.

By the same process, more and more formerly rich capitalists are ruined and pushed into the ranks of the miserable workers (“One capitalist always kills many“) until – and the details are never really described – there are so few rich and so many poor that:

Centralisation of the means of production and socialisation of labour at last reach a point where they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. This integument is burst asunder. The knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated.

The final stage doesn’t need to be especially violent: at the end point, there are so few super rich that whether they’re hanged from lampposts or pensioned off like the last emperor of China doesn’t make much difference in the great scheme of things.

Marx believed that he had discovered the laws, the processes, the machinery, that drove history and society: the way things are and will be, that must be: scientific. After Marx, socialism is no longer something to be wished for, something some rich benevolent owner might create if we asked him politely, an appeal to Christian conscience, but something that is the very mechanism of the way things are and the way they must develop. Socialism is hard-wired into history.

But, right away, there’s a contradiction: if it’s scientific, nothing you or I can do will make it come faster or slower so there’s no point in joining socialist parties: Newton’s laws of motion don’t care whether you or I create a society to proselytise for them. But if it’s important to work towards socialism – and Marx himself was closely involved in at least one effort to do so – then it’s not inevitable and, therefore, not scientific. This created two threads in Marxism – spontaneity (it is going to happen in its own time) and voluntarism (it has to be made to happen).

The scientific expectation that A leads to B and B to C came to a crisis in the late 1800s. Eduard Bernstein argued that things were not following the path that Marx had foreseen half a century before – ownership of capital was not concentrating in fewer and fewer hands, the conditions of the workers was not growing worse. In a word, political developments – the working class’s political power – were changing Marx’s laws. From this conflict of theory and observation was born the idea of what we now call social democracy. Socialists should work within the system to reduce working hours, break up monopolies, eliminate child labour, force up wages, support labour unions and so on: in Marxist terms, use political power to compel the owners to give up a significant portion of the surplus value. Social democracy could be harmonised with the idea of free enterprise by describing it as levelling the playing field. If the essence of the free market is competition, then who can disagree with the idea that labour’s demands should freely compete with capital’s in conditions where each is level; if competition in output is desirable then it is desirable in inputs as well. The mixed economy: the dynamism of the free market prevents the stagnation and bureaucracy of socialism and the power of labour prevented the crushing of the weak and the government is the enforcer of the balance.

Lenin hated Bernstein’s conclusions (“revisionism“) and in What is To Be Done? took a different course: an informed and disciplined few should drive development. And that led to the USSR and, at its flaccid end, the “developed socialism” of Brezhnev. (Parenthetical aside: Brezhnev is what Plato’s Philosopher King looks like when actual humans try it out in real time). Interesting to observe, however, that both Bernsteinism and Leninism were voluntaristic approaches: the future will be created by acts of will today. So much for scientific socialism.

The mixed economy worked pretty well for a long time and social democracies in Europe delivered high standards of living and social justice across the board. Even the USA, with its hatred of “socialism”, delivered a fine standard of living to its “proletariat” thanks to the power of labour unions and majority voting. Rather than wretchedly existing at the edge of the commodity cost of labour like the protagonists of The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists, a worker in the West could buy a house and support a family. Altogether, the generality could agree that a good balance had been struck and Marx’s predictions had been disproven. The collapse of the USSR and its satellites fired a nail gun into his coffin. Marxists turned into whiskery crazies shouting on street corners that it can’t have failed because it was never really tried!!!

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But that was then and this is now. What started me off on these thoughts was this headline: “The 3 Richest Americans Hold More Wealth Than Bottom 50% Of The Country, Study Finds“. That’s pretty astonishing: 3 people could buy out 160 million Americans: pay off their rents and mortgages, clear out their savings accounts, pocket their health plans, empty out their pension plans, throw their clothing into the Salvation Army box, pile their knick-knacks at the curb and cash out their tooth fillings. As to buying the other half, the only question is how many more billionaires would it take: a hundred, two hundred? How long before the three could buy up two-thirds of the population? (Last week, we’re told, one of the three added six billion to his kitty – that’s twelve of the latest Princess cruise ships or half a US aircraft carrier.) Before I heard about the big three I’d known of this study from 2014: “Researchers then concluded that U.S. policies are formed more by special interest groups than by politicians properly representing the will of the general people, including the lower-income class.” The two headlines are not, to put it mildly, unconnected.

Moving down to mere millions we learn that the “Ousted Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg left the company with stock options and other assets worth about $80 million, but did not receive severance as part of his departure from the embattled company, Boeing disclosed late Friday.” A gold-standard company, probably destroyed on his watch, and he pockets more moolah that you, I or all the readers of this piece will ever see. Meanwhile average wages haven’t changed much for 40 years in the USA. Rich getting richer, poor getting poorer.

What happened? Well, simply put, the rich grabbed hold of political power, took over the government and started to unlevel the playing field. Wherever they can exercise their power they do: executive salaries rise, university fees grow, parliamentarians grow richer, bureaucracies expand, government bailouts bail. None of this is new or unusual, of course: greed+power=more greed is an equation for all times and all places. But somewhere the West lost the countervailing forces that balanced the greed of the bosses with the greed of the unions. We see this throughout the West: super rich, enormous executive salaries, endless perqs for some; austerity for the rest. More dramatically in the USA, of course, because it is the West’s leader and its “early adopter”. Socialists and the institutions they encouraged provided a counterforce and brute power created a balance in which everybody got something. That counterforce disappeared somewhere.

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So, in a way, what Marx foresaw 170 years ago has come to happen. Much later than he expected and much differently than he expected. His theory held that the owners of the means of production – Carnegies, Vanderbilts, Rockefellers – would rule the world. But of the three Americans who, we are told, can buy half the population, one is an investor, another a software developer and the third the inventor of a mail order store. Where are the means of production? Well – another irony – they were sold to China.

So the super rich in the West own intangibles;

The communists in the East own the means of production:

Not exactly what Marx expected.

And yet: three people as rich as half a country? Legislatures that do what they’re told by their paymasters? That is rather like the late stage capitalism that Marx was talking about – a few, very few, super rich and a large number of emmiserated people.

As Marx might say today, opioids are the opium of the people.

So what happens next? COVID-19 is brutally exposing the fact that these Western societies aren’t actually very efficient. Is it significant that three quarters of the COVID-19 cases are in NATO countries? Only six months ago, they were supposed to be the best prepared. Endless wars go on endlessly, debt piles up, wealth gaps grow, austerity policies grind on. The propaganda of Western exceptionalism is still strong but weaker and less convincing with every failure.

The world is changing and Karl Marx doesn’t look as out of date as he did 50 years ago.